Why have so few major new pop stars emerged lately? The music-buying public has thoughts.

For the Aug. 2 Billboard story, “Pop Stars Aren’t Popping Like They Used To — Do Labels Have a Plan?”, reporter Elias Leight spoke with label executives and managers to try to understand the dearth of new superstars, with Olivia Rodrigo and Ice Spice cited as rare examples of new artists to have broken through over the past couple of years. Reasons given for the decline ranged from the practice of signing more artists at labels, to the lessening marketing power of radio, to increased competition for time and attention from video games and social media — with some sources concluding that expectations for mass market appeal should be lowered in today’s more fragmented media landscape.

Due in part to an Aug. 8 tweet by widely-followed pop culture account Pop Base, however, online chatter around the story exploded, with users on X (formerly known as Twitter) and Reddit offering their own opinions on the relative absence of new stars with the mass appeal of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Harry Styles and Lady Gaga. Here are a few of the most prominent and interesting takes.

It’s All TikTok’s Fault

The most common reason given for the scarcity of new pop stars was TikTok, which was blamed for all but killing traditional artist development.

“They need to stop signing people based off of a couple viral tiktok videos, churning out fast food music and work with real artists with longevity,” wrote @internetmaeve on X. “like Olivia didn’t blow up overnight she was a disney kid?? s– takes time.”

The ephemeral nature of the short-form video platform — a significant change from a radio-dominated business, when songs in rotation on Top 40 stations were inescapable — was cited as a factor by Reddit user @anneoftheisland, weighing in on the r/popheads channel where the article was shared: “TikTok isn’t set up to boost artists, it’s set up to boost individual songs…In the radio era, if a hit broke out, labels had significant sway to get that artist’s second and third songs in front of you … they couldn’t force you to like those songs, but they could force you to listen to them. But that’s a lot harder to do in the streaming/TikTok era. If you hear a song you like on TikTok, there’s a large chance you won’t hear that artist’s second/third singles unless you seek them out yourself.”

On the same Reddit thread, @Interesting-Ad9838 said that artists who break through on TikTok simply don’t have the cross-generational impact as in previous eras, thereby limiting their influence. “The general audience don’t know who these artists are anymore,” they wrote. “If my grandparents know who you are, then you definitely made it.”

Record Labels Are Too Risk-Averse

Another common theme, which ties in with concerns about TikTok, is the complaint that labels are increasingly risk-averse, preferring to sign artists with preexisting fanbases rather than putting the time, energy and money into developing them from the ground up.

“Mind you there are artists on…labels right now probably begging to have full label support and funding for their projects,” said X user @waylojan. “The problem is they’re looking elsewhere instead of bolstering the talent they have.”

“The industry wants quick and fast and isn’t giving, in my opinion, some people who could really do this the right chance,” added Reddit user @moxieroxsox on the r/popheads thread. “It took Rihanna 3 albums before she skyrocketed. Taylor Swift wasn’t taken seriously until what? Speak Now? Red? Ariana did Broadway and TV before she started music and she has the voice of a literal angel. Beyoncé spent years tailoring her sound, not to mention all the years she spent developing her abilities in Destiny’s Child.”

Record Labels Are Doing This On Purpose

Provocatively, a Reddit user (who has a rather provocative handle we won’t name here for reasons of decorum) positioned the pop star drought as something engineered by labels to avoid paying the kind of money they gave superstars like Janet Jackson and Madonna in the old days.

“When you have stars that have a lot of momentum behind their career, and they have a lot of prestige, and they have a large and solid fanbase, they get to demand more from labels,” they wrote. “If you have stars with much shorter careers…and shorter reigns in public interest, you don’t have somebody who can walk into a negotiation, and demand more on their side of the deal with the label.”

Our Attention Is Too Fragmented

Audience fragmentation, precipitated in part by the rise of social media influencers, was also a theme hit upon by several commenters.

“It’s probably hard when everyone can be famous now on TikTok,” said X user @kariwarburgon. “It’s like that one quote from The Incredibles ‘Once everyone is super no one is.’”

With so many platforms to release and consume music now, Reddit user itsyagurlb says public attention has simply become more diffuse — making it more difficult for artists to achieve stratospheric levels of fame.

“As someone else here has mentioned, we no longer have ‘smash’ hits from major pop stars that are inescapable, and so even with the rise of streaming, it’s much easier for people to tune out of today’s ‘hit’ song,” they wrote. “We consume music differently now which also impacts how pervasive a song can be because of how individualized our streaming choices can be. Even in the age of iTunes, hits were more impactful because if you wanted to hear the hot new song, you might pay for it. Now? I can listen to a minute of the song on spotify without any real investment and move on if I dont vibe with it, and there’s been no ‘sale.’”

Added Reddit user @BronzeErupt, citing one of the most powerful promotional vehicles of the late ’90s and early ’00s: “There’s no modern equivalent of TRL where a song can be deliberately played and suddenly everyone knows about it.”

Music Is Boring/Bad Now

Predictably, some social media users slammed the state of modern popular music. “I want to blame TikTok for this, but truthfully I think the root of the problem is how boring, dull and unoriginal modern-pop music sounds like,” said Reddit user TuffyTenToes. “They aren’t popping off because there is nothing to be popping off for. Perhaps I’m doomposting but it truly feels like pop music is in an all time low, creatively speaking.”

“Too many people mistake tik tok earworms for musical talent,” added @LSX3399 on Reddit. “No albums anymore, no concepts, no risks. Over-saturation of mid.”

It’s Taylor Swift’s Fault

Is the real problem…Taylor Swift? According to Reddit user @LifeOfAWimpyKid, the uber-popstar of the 21st century is simply taking up too much space in the conversation for other artists to break through.

“I feel like Taylor Swift has singlehandedly saturated the pop market to the point where the entire industry has become boring as s— and not fun for other artists to participate in,” they wrote. “Taylor is not without merit, but now it’s just Taylor, Taylor, Taylor all the time. Her fans are very vocal and active too and dominate the conversation, and all the other opinions just get drowned out. This was hardly the case a decade ago, when you had multiple acts coexisting at the top, such as Rihanna, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, David Guetta, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris, and Eminem.”

This Is Actually a Good Thing

Breaking from the pack, X user @fromage_enjoyer couched the struggle to mint new pop stars as a positive development, marking a shift from the days when radio and MTV determined what people listened to: “The current generation is winning. We aren’t stuck with whatever big labels want to shove down our throats thanks to the internet. That has them scared since they lose profits, but for the artists and consumers it’s great,” they said, before hastening to add: “Streaming pay outs need to be talked about however.”

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